After many decades of uncertainty, now we have the proof that the Great Bustard is indeed breeding in Romania. It took us 13 years of field work and, perhaps, a stroke of luck to get this confirmation.
The Great Bustard (Otis tarda) is the heaviest flying bird in Europe. Classified by the IUCN as vulnerable, by the 1950s the species disappeared from most parts of Europe as its once far and wide habitats (the Eurasian steppe) were fragmented. This also happened in Romania, where after the nationalisation of the communist era the grasslands (its natural habitats) were tilled and converted into farmlands. Mechanised agriculture, hunting and poaching also contributed to their decline in numbers.
In the XIXth century there were stable populations in Banat, Crișana, the Transylvanian Plateau, the Wallachian Plain, Dobruja and in a few other places in Moldavia. However, according to the official records from 1988, there were only 48 bustards left in the whole country. Therefore, after 1990, the Great Bustard was considered extinct in Romania.
On the other hand, we have all the reasons to believe that in Salonta (Bihor county) they maintained a last stronghold within Romania. According to our field monitoring observations from the last 13 years, there is a small cross-border population of around 40 individuals, which use territories on each part of the border with Hungary, in the area of Salonta-Mezőgyán. Additionally, in accordance with the psychology of the species, they tend to use traditional display (the courship ritual of the males) and nesting sites. (Here’s a video showing a male in the display season filmed in Salonta, Romania)
The photo was sent to us by Ioan Matiu jr., a Veterinary Medecine student, accidentaly found the nest accidentally while doing agricultural work. For us, Milvus Group Association, this photo has historical value. It proves the breeding of a species once considered extinct in Romania and, in the meantime, it emphasizes how important the field work, involvement of the local community and authorities are in nature conservation, but also the need for more efficient agri-enviromental programmes available for the bustard-friendly farmers.
Presently, we have an on-going project together with Salonta City Hall and other two partners from Hungary (Town Hall of Békés and Körösök Völgye Natúrpark Association), “Conservation, protection and promotion of the natural values from Salonta-Békéscsaba crossborder area, ROHU-14 – The Nature Corner” financed by the EU through the Interreg V-A Romania-Hungary Program, which, as for the Romanian side, has been entirely shaped on the Great Bustard. More about the project on the website: www.dropia.eu, or on Facebook, and Instagram pages.